Sharjah: The AFC Champions League is back, and with an unprecedented 40 teams spread across 10 groups, the race for the Asian Champions title is sure to be bigger and more intense than ever.
One of the most interesting groups in the Western Zone will be in the United Arab Emirates, where Sharjah will host Uzbek Super League holders FC Pakhtakor, FC Tractor and the Air Force Club of Iraq, Cup winners. ‘Iran, who sealed their place with an exciting play-off. win earlier this week.
Before Wednesday’s kick-off, allow the-AFC.com to make you aware of the location, the star players and the background of the group.
Sharjah Stadium: The third largest city in the United Arab Emirates and a city of significant cultural significance, Sharjah will host Group B, with all 12 matches taking place in the 18,000-seat stadium.
The site hosted six matches of the 2019 AFC UAE Asian Cup, and it has proven to be a danger ground for teams in high-stakes matches, the campaigns of India, Lebanon, from Korea DPR and Saudi Arabia all ending in Sharjah within days. one another.
At first glance, Pakhtakor fans may be delighted to remember Uzbekistan’s 2-1 victory over Oman at this AFC Asian Cup venue, but only two members of the current squad of Pieter Huistra appeared that day, and one of them – Egor Krimets – was kicked out. .
Igor Coronado – Sharjah
A joy to watch, unless you’re playing against him.
An attacking midfielder able to bend games as he pleases, Brazilian Igor Coronado, alongside compatriot Welliton, was a key factor in Sharjah’s victory in the UAE Pro League title in 2019, and he continued. in the same vein with 17 goals in the current national campaign. .
He scores free kicks, takes on his opponents and, when at his best, Coronado can become almost unstoppable, scoring four goals in a single league game against Khor Fakkan last month and producing a hat-trick against Al Taawoun. during last season’s ACL. group stage.
If that kind of form is repeated here, Sharjah’s Group B matches will be must-see shows for football fans across Asia.
Mohammadreza Akhbari – Tractor FC
In the era of Alireza Beiranvand, Hamed Lak, Amir Abedzadeh and Payam Niazmand, to name a few, Iranian football is in the midst of something of a golden age of goalkeepers, but FC Tractor fans will argue that Mohammaedreza Akhbari deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
A star on the Asian scene during the 2016 AFC U23 AFC Championship, Akhbari broke through to continental club level when Tractor reached the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League later that year, keeping four leaves. white in six group stage matches.
In 2021, Tractor is back on the big stage and, with six clean sheets to his name so far this season, their popular stopper will be as important as anyone if the Hazfi Cup winners are to make a dent in Asia.
Dragan Ćeran – FC Pakhtakor
He might not wear the kind of name recognition of some of the continent’s other top forwards, but Dragan Ćeran of Serbia has been as effective as almost anyone in Asia over the past two seasons.
Outstanding Uzbek Super League scorer, Ćeran has scored 67 goals in all competitions since the start of 2019, and although he has not been as prolific in the AFC Champions League as he has been in domestic football, his crucial equalizer against Esteghlal in last season’s Round of 16 paved the way for a memorable result and showed his ability to make a difference when it really matters.
With the departure of former head coach Shota Arveladze and chief designer Jaloliddin Masharipov in recent months, a lot has changed in Pakhtakor, but the Tashkent team will always look in the direction of Eran when a winning goal is required in Sharjah.
Aymen Hussein – Air Force Club
Put simply, Air Force Club wouldn’t be in that group without Aymen Hussein, and if the 25-year-old striker is successful, he’ll be the one to pull them out.
Known throughout Asia as the modern kings of the AFC Cup, the Air Force Club are back in the AFC Champions League group stage for the first time since 2008 thanks in large part to the equalizer. of Hussein’s extra time against Al Wehda on Wednesday, and the Iraqi club will be keen to make sure the story doesn’t end there.
Physically imposing, smart off the ball and with several different ways of scoring, his 14 league goals make him the best striker in Iraq so far this season and his Group B opponents will have their hands full if they want him. keep quiet in the coming weeks.
Dating to watch
In a fascinating group without four teams who can all really hope to make it to the last 16, there are unlikely to be any cheap points available in Group B which makes every game worth watching.
No one got past the quarter-finals. Everyone has a point to prove.
Sharjah has exceptional individuals and a home advantage, but has not reached the knockout stage since 2004, while FC Tractor fans will be desperate to see any improvement in the disastrous group stage campaign that saw them. collect just two points from six matches in their last tournament appearance in 2018.
Pakhtakor are the club with the most experience in the competition, and they will be eager to ensure that last year’s quarterfinal appearance is not unique, and the Air Force Club dreams of replicating their legendary AFC Cup success on Asian football’s biggest stage. .
The teams have barely met before – Pakhtakor knocked out the Air Force Club in the 2019 qualifying heats, and the Uzbek side shared a victory with Tractor in the group stage three years earlier – meaning the group B isn’t about historic rivalries or settling scores, but a collection of four talented and ambitious teams, all of whom will believe their time has come.
Who will be leading # ACL2021 Group B?
Air Force Club (IRQ)
FC Tractor (IRN)
The survey ends at 4:00 p.m. (UTC + 8) on April 12.